Taking the first step towards fixing the shortcomings of the proposed food security bill, the UPA government’s empowered group of ministers (EGoM) on Monday asked the Planning Commission to decide precisely how many poor people there were in India — those who would be the largest beneficiaries of the landmark law.
<b1>The draft legislation was recalled last week after the Congress leadership found it wanting in some respects. The Congress, however, has denied there were differences on the bill between the government and the party.
The EGoM, led by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, decided to take a calibrated approach, addressing the bill’s biggest deficiencies first, such as lack of a clear idea of the below-poverty-line (BPL) headcount.
Simultaneously, it has asked the food ministry to study how 22 other countries enacted and put into practice similar
The quantity of cheap grains for India’s poor pegged at 25 kg a month — a key issue — is likely to stay the same, despite some objections voiced claiming it was not enough. The EGoM found no problems with the ration quota, sources said.
"After the Planning Commission and the food ministry complete the spadework, their findings will be circulated among all colleagues,” food minister Sharad Pawar said.
Both the Planning Commission and the food ministry have been asked to get back in the next three weeks, when the EGoM will meet again.
India has been unable to settle on the BPL headcount, decided on the basis of a combination of 13 socio-economic parameters, including calorie intake and income.
According to the Suresh Tendulkar Committee, 37.2 per cent of Indians qualify as poor. According to the Planning Commission, which is being followed, it is 27.2. Yet another estimate from state governments puts the figure at 10.52 crore families or 45 per cent of all Indians.
The final draft glossed over key decisions taken at the February 12 eGoM meeting on March 5, such as entitlements for destitutes, beggars, street children and the homeless.
The final draft also kept enough legroom to increase the issue price of cheap grains from Rs 3 a kg.